Many school districts across the U. S. could benefit from genuine school reform, but they may lack the resources and/or expertise to carry it out. The purpose of this article is to guide school districts through the reform process, step by step. As a disclaimer, since every school district or educational organization is different, this guide may need to be amended in order to meet your district's individual needs. Without further ado, let's begin.
First, when attempting school reform, district leaders must first assemble a district restructuring team. Groups no larger than seven usually work best, and the team can be made up of a variety of district personnel and staff. Restructuring teams normally consist of a school board member, the superintendent and assistant superintendents, principals, teachers, and other pertinent individuals.
Once the team is created, efforts must be made to assess the district’s capacity for implementing and sustaining school reform. The team must ask itself whether the district has all of the resources needed to implement and sustain a successful school reform campaign. In extreme cases, when the district believes it is unable to coordinate its own reform effort, the team might want to consider contracting an educational consulting firm. There are many well-qualified firms that will be able to either work in conjunction with a restructuring team or oversee the process themselves. It is important to note, however, that this can turn into an enormous job with an enormous price tag.
The restructuring team must be committed to finding and implementing innovative strategies that have the potential to effectively produce educational change. However, assembling a top-notch team is simply not enough. All of the major administrators, including the superintendent and school board, must fully support the decisions of the district restructuring team.
Remember that parents, community leaders, and policymakers must be included in the school reform process. Many parents are involved in their children's education and simply want to be informed of any changes. The restructuring team will need to decide if parents and community leaders should be included as formal members of the group, or to simply elicit their advice and expertise as needed. When making decisions concerning what individuals will populate the team, remember to include members that have the expertise to be taken seriously within the district.
Involving parents and community members in the restructuring process might provide the restructuring team with a way to engage other members of the community, such as grassroots organizations, local business leaders, and area politicians. Community members can also assist the school in choosing the correct restructuring plan. It is vital for the restructuring team to understand the culture of the community, its needs and wants, and the life skills young people need to fit in and survive in the community.
The task of choosing the leader and deciding on the roles of each restructuring team member should not be taken lightly. In many instances, the leader of the restructuring team will be the superintendent or someone he or she appoints. The leader does not necessarily need to be the superintendent, but if they are not, they must have the superintendent's support. The leader must assume the responsibility of being held accountable for ensuring the success of the entire team as it moves to implement and sustain school reform. The leader’s roles might include, but are not restricted to, determining the areas of expertise the team members bring to the table and how he or she can utilize their expertise.
The leader will need to establish a standing meeting time and develop an agenda to utilize their time to the fullest extent possible. The leader must decide if the team should have mandatory or optional meetings. If the meetings are optional, how information is disseminated to members who do not attend meetings will need to be decided by the leader.
Prepared agendas are essential for smooth meetings and excellent communication among the team. Preparing agendas are the team leader’s responsibilities. The leader of the restructuring team must remain patient, but a sense of urgency must be the catalyst of all meetings. Since the team will be made up primarily of school district personnel and various other community members and parents, having an outsider on the team will give it valuable expertise, in addition to an objective lens with which to gauge progress.
It will be helpful to determine what viable options of reform the team is able to utilize. A district-wide plan must be developed, while bearing in mind that each school will need to modify the plan based on the needs of its students. Once the system of reform is created and approved by all team members, the plan will need to be approved by the superintendent before it is presented to the school board. The same rules apply whether reform is needed by one school or by all the schools in the district.
A concern, alluded to in above comments, is the need to assess the district’s capacity for implementing and sustaining educational reform. To appropriately assess the abilities of the district or school, the leader will need to complete an inventory of the qualifications and areas of expertise the team members have. If the inventory concludes that the district or school does not have the capacity to implement or sustain the plan for reform, state takeover or hiring outside education consultants may be the only options.
Another concern might be that the team members do not understand the dedication and the length of time it will take to carry out the reform. Before the team starts to implement the necessary changes, the leader will need to stress to all team members the enormity of the task, the number of hours the members will need to dedicate to the project, and what is truly at stake.
Once the team’s reform plan has been approved, it is time to implement the plan. The restructuring team will discuss possible impediments to the approved plan and ensure that it has a contingency plan to deal with these issues as they arise. Next, they will implement their target goals and timelines. The leader should then appoint a task force to be responsible for continuously collecting, analyzing, and interpreting any data. The leader will then use this information to continuously revise and refine the team’s restructuring efforts, as well as report their findings/data to the superintendent and/or the school board. If your district follows the blueprint that have outlined in my article, I think that you will begin to see positive results in no time.
Providing every child with an equal opportunity to learn has been a central challenge in public education. In fact, at its inception, universal public education in the United States was viewed as the “great equalizer.” Education was perceived by some as the vehicle through which individuals could rise above the social and economic circumstances which may have created longstanding barriers to reaching their potential as individuals and contributing citizens.
As the test of time has proven, education alone cannot address entrenched social problems; multiple institutions, policies and support systems are necessary to level the social and economic playing field. However, education is and will continue to be one of the primary means by which inequity can be addressed. Public funds will continue to be allocated in support of educational programs, and the rationale for these investments will likely continue to be that education creates social equity.
The purposeful and practical allocation of resources to support equitable access to high-quality learning opportunities is a major component of education policy at the federal, state, and local levels. Leaders at all levels of the education are charged with making decisions about how to effectively distribute and leverage resources to support teaching and learning.
Resource allocation consists of more than assigning dollar amounts to particular schools or programs. Equally, if not more important, is the examination of the ways in which those dollars are translated into actions that address expressed educational goals at various educational levels. In this respect, leaders are concerned not only with the level of resources and how they are distributed across districts, schools, and classrooms, but also with how these investments translate into improved learning.
It is critical for resource allocation practices to reflect an understanding of the imperative to eliminate existing inequities and close the achievement gap. All too often, children who are most in need of support and assistance attend schools that have higher staff turnover, less challenging curricula, less access to appropriate materials and technology, and poorer facilities.
Allocating and developing resources to support improvement in teaching and learning is critical to school reform efforts. Education policymakers must be informed about emerging resource practices and cognizant of the ways incentives can be used to create conditions that support teaching and learning.
Resource allocation in education does not take place in a vacuum. Instead, it often reflects policy conditions that form a context in which opportunities for effective leadership can be created. For example, effective leaders know how to use data strategically to inform resource allocation decisions and to provide insights about how productivity, efficiency, and equity are impacted by allocated resources.
The roles, responsibilities, and authority of leaders at each level of education also impacts whether and how they are able to allocate resources to particular districts, schools, programs, teachers, and students. Further, the type of governance structure that is in place also affects decisions about resources and incentives. Governance issues arise as leaders become involved in raising revenue and distributing educational resources. These activities involve multiple entities, including the voting public, state legislatures, local school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers’ associations. Each of these connections can provide insights into how best to allocate resources and provide incentives that powerfully and equitably support learning, for both students and education professionals.
Resources necessary to operate a successful school or school district cannot be confined to dollars alone, however. Indeed, the resources needed to actively and fully support education are inherently complex and require an understanding that goes far beyond assessing the level of spending or how the dollars are distributed. Educational leaders must be able to examine the ways in which those dollars are translated into action by allocating time and people, developing human capital, and providing incentives and supports in productive ways.
Principals, district officials who oversee the allocation of resources, and state policymakers whose actions affect the resources the principal has to work with, are all concerned with three basic categories of resources:
1. Money. Activities at several levels of the system, typically occurring in annual cycles, determine both the amount of money that is available to support education and the purposes to which money can be allocated. No one level of the educational system has complete control over the flow, distribution, and expenditure of funds.
2. Human capital. People “purchased” with the allocated funds do the work of the educational system and bring differing levels of motivation and expertise developed over time through training and experience.
3. Time. People’s work happens within an agreed-upon structure of time (and assignment of people to tasks within time blocks) that allocates hours within the day and across the year to different functions, thereby creating more or less opportunity to accomplish goals.
These resources are thus intimately linked to one another. Each affects the other and even depends on the other to achieve its intended purpose. An abundance of money and time, for example, without the knowledge, motivation, and expertise of teachers (human capital) does little to maximize desired learning opportunities created for students.
Furthermore, an abundance of human capital without money or time to distribute it does little to alter practice in classrooms or to share expertise with others. From their position of influence over the acquisition, flow, and (intended) use of resources, educational leaders thereby undertake a massive attempt to coordinate and render coherent the relationships of the various resources to the goals they set out to achieve.
On Friday, September 23, President Barack Obama announced that his administration's amendments to the No Child Left Behind Act would curtail the need for educators to "teach to the test." He also opined that although NCLB was well intentioned, it has not lived up to its hype. "Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far," The President said in his remarks. "I've urged Congress for a while now, let's get a bipartisan effort, let's fix this. Congress hasn't been able to do it. So I will." In the eyes of many, NCLB has actually contributed to our educational system becoming even worse. With skyrocketing costs, budget crises, inconsistent curricula, poor standardized test scores, and poor morale among teachers, administrators, and students, the need for sustainable and pervasive educational change is greater now than ever before.
The numbers of questions related to the quality of the U.S. educational system from multiple sectors of society is at an all-time high. Many American parents have seen reports that American schools rank well below schools in countries such as China and Japan, or have heard President Obama declare a “dropout crisis” in the USA. An abundance of news reports and discouraging case studies has created panic among education stakeholders, who want to know why the American K-12 school system is failing. However, many insist on playing the “blame game,” which in most cases is counterproductive.
Many Americans believe that only a small percentage of leaders understand the complexities of the school system, and that individuals who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of our teachers and students. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where too many educators lack the credentials and skills necessary to perform their duties adequately. High student-to-teacher ratios are found in most urban schools, and these schools often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges they face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken urban areas, it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal.
If American educators and school personnel do not make a concerted effort to develop effective measures to hold schools accountable for the education of all of our children, then the education crisis will continue. There is an exception to every rule, as some urban school systems are providing their students with a quality education. Unfortunately, however, only a small number of school systems meet the state and federal government student performance requirements. For underperforming urban school systems, the problem usually lies with the inability to sustain existing reform efforts and initiatives.
Mayors and school superintendents in these areas often concoct grandiose reform plans that are merely political devices meant to beguile voters into believing they genuinely care about educational reform. The idea that politicians create school reform to gain popularity and votes is sad and sobering. It is discouraging to realize that our children’s futures might be used as a political device to win elections.
Politicians are not the only people at fault for the shoddy education American children are receiving, but no one is willing to share the blame for subpar educational environments. If administrators were asked who was at fault, they might point to a lack of parental involvement and too few quality teachers. If teachers were asked who was at fault they might also cite a lack of parental involvement and ineffective administration. If parents were asked who was at fault they might blame teachers and school administrators.
Society in general needs to understand that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors that contribute to the current state of our educational system. The country must unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America’s future via educational excellence without playing the “blame game.”
While contemplating writing an article about Johnny Dupree, African American Gubernatorial candidate for the state of Mississippi, I was reminded of the redoubtable Mike Espy. From 1987 to 1993, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He also served as the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994 and was the first African American to hold the post. He was and still is an idol of mine and at that point in time, he was the highest ranking African American politician in the United States.
In 1994 he was pressured to resign his position as U. S. Secretary of Agriculture amid allegations that he inappropriately received gifts from businesses and lobbyists. After months of media inquiry, Espy announced his resignation. The move was made a couple of weeks after Donald Smaltz was chosen to investigate Espy’s acceptance of gifts from companies and lobbyists that were under the jurisdiction of the USDA.
As many of you may remember, back on August 27, 1997, Mike Espy was indicted on charges of receiving inappropriate gifts, specifically from Tyson and Sun Diamond. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz presented more than 70 witnesses in the trial; spent $17 million dollars on various phases of the case and Espy’s defense rested without calling witnesses, asserting that the prosecution had not established Espy’s guilt. It is also important to note that Espy wholeheartedly snubbed a plea bargain.
Although Smaltz proved that Espy received the gifts, he failed to demonstrate that Espy did something in return for them. The law allows officials to accept gifts out of friendship or a yearning to establish friendship, so long as the gifts are not for acts of quid pro quo.
Defense lawyers said many of the gifts came from lifelong friends and others were given as harmless acts of generosity. Day after day, Smaltz's own witnesses described Espy as a superior leader who made all decisions on their merits.
During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's chief witness told Smaltz in front of the jury: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir." Throughout the trial, Smaltz griped that the defense was infusing race into the trial in what he saw as a plea to the mainly African American jury.
On December 2, 1998, Espy was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges and the jury deliberated for only 9 hours. It was reported that one of the jurors stated "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial." This sentiment was also expressed by several other jurors.
Espy celebrated as the jury forewoman broadcasted the verdicts in U.S. District Court. Thirty times she looked at the verdict form and declared "not guilty" as independent counsel Donald Smaltz and his team of lawyers sat calmly at the prosecution table. Barbara Bisoni, the only Caucasian juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race by no means entered into the two days of deliberations.
"He's not unlike any other schoolyard bully," Espy said of Smaltz. "You have to stand up to him. You have to let him know you're not going to back down, and sooner or later it's going to be okay."
The moral of the story is; when God is on your side, not even a prosecutor with a $17 million dollar budget can convict you. Espy faced immeasurable odds but at the end of his ordeal, he was still standing. He never compromised his character and refused to negotiate a plea bargain. Mike Espy was and still is the epitome of a transformational leader.
If you haven’t been paying much attention to the debate concerning the relevance and effectiveness of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), now is the time to sit up and take notice. If you don’t, there is a chance it could soon be too late. Over the last two decades, we have seen the number of HBCUs in the United States sharply decline and this greatly concerns me. Those who believe in the benefits of HBCUs need to stand up and let their voices be heard, before these important institutions are gone forever.
HBCUs are coming under fire for everything from not improving their failing infrastructures to producing lower graduation rates, and more. But we need to take a moment to look at why people should pull together, rally around them, and help them make it through turbulent economic times. HBCUs have helped to educate some of the most prominent African American figures in this country’s history, including Jesse Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, and Thurgood Marshall, among many others.
HBCUs provide cultural benefits, as well as providing an affordable education. This cultural foundation has been important to the African American community for over a century. Our HBCUs were there, supporting the community and educating our people, long before other colleges would even let them through the door. So are we saying that, just because mainstream American colleges will now let black students in, we should abandon the institutions that supported us and helped us get to where we are today?
HBCUs are a part of African American tradition, going back generations. They were not only there during the struggle; they helped our people get through it! We owe them our support and respect. They were there for us, and it is time, right now, for us to be there for them.
The biggest reason that HBCUs are fading is because they are often lack sufficient funding, which makes it difficult for them to survive. Without adequate funding, they will end up deteriorating and are apt to become a thing of the past. The low completion rate at HBCUs has also been a contributing factor to their demise. But I believe that it is the other way around: the lack of funding has contributed to the lower graduation rates. HBCUs have to deal with the fact that many of their academically eligible students drop out of college each year because their financial needs cannot be met with Pell Grants and other aid. A large portion of HBCUs have small endowments, so there isn’t a huge rainy day fund to tap into when financial challenges arise.
I received my Masters and Doctoral level training from Jackson State University. Recently, Washington Monthly magazine ranked Jackson State University number 9 among 258 colleges and universities across the country in terms of social mobility, research and service ratings. This attests to the fact that many of our HBCUs are achieving astounding results, against all odds. In my home state of Mississippi, I grew up attending athletic and cultural functions at Tougaloo College, Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University and of course the aforementioned Jackson State University. These universities are sources of great pride and a part of the African American intellectual tradition.
Now is the time when people who support HBUCs, including advocates, organizations, faculty, students and alumni, need to rally together to help save this historical piece of African American history. If these groups come together and make their voices heard, we will be able to save these institutions. But make no mistake, if there is no rally, if there is no coming together to let the powers-that-be know that we want them saved, then I predict that they will be gone in 50 or so years. And they will not return. Nobody is going to turn back the hands of time and open another historically black college or university, because it wouldn’t be historic. Right now, they are historic, and they need our support and rescue!
Many people are currently asking whether HBCUs are worth saving in the first place. I ask, how can these historical institutions, which represent African American culture, tradition and struggle for educational equality, not be considered worth saving? If they are not worth saving, then it makes it very difficult to find any other piece of African American heritage that is worth saving. These educational institutions are symbols of our people that must not be ignored.
I urge those who care about these institutions to speak out, show your support, and demand that adequate funding be provided to them, so that they can make it through these turbulent economic times. It’s not just about saving a college or university. This is a metaphor for saving ourselves! With proper funding, these schools will thrive, carrying on our culture and traditions as they were meant to do.
In the words of the great Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Which will you be?